It’s a four-alarm joyride as California teen steals fire engine

VISALIA, Calif. — A teenager hopped aboard an idling fire engine just before midnight recently and drove off, emergency lights blazing, as firefighters tended to a medical aid call.

Visalia police spotted the bright yellow, 28,000-pound engine about 12 minutes and four miles later.

“He didn’t get very far,” said Greg Glass, interim chief of the Visalia Fire Department. “They don’t go real fast and they’re hard to hide.”

It didn’t help that the boy drove the truck with the emergency brake on, said Visalia Police Sgt. Jeff Robertson.

“Smoke was just pouring out of it” when officers caught up to the truck, Robertson said.

As the boy, 16, tried to pull the truck over, Robertson said, he sideswiped a light pole, damaging the 2006 Pierce fire engine valued at $450,000.

The boy put up a brief struggle with officers, Robertson said. He was treated for a minor cut to his forehead at a hospital and later booked at juvenile hall on suspicion of auto theft, hit-and-run, resisting arrest, driving under the influence and possession of 21 small packets of marijuana.

Glass said the three firefighters who responded to the medical call followed procedure: Pull to the side of the road, leave the lights on and the engine running and go inside, he said. Lights are left on to warn motorists and guide ambulance drivers to the scene, he said.

The department will review its security procedures, Glass said, “but what we don’t want to do is overreact to the situation.”

The fire engine is now at a city yard, getting a safety check and repairs for minor damage.

In his 36 years in the fire service, Glass said he’s never heard of someone stealing a fire truck.

“I’ve known things to be stolen from fire engines, like chain saws or things that are of use to people, but the majority of the time, no one really has a use for a fire engine,” he said. “It’s not like you can sell it.”

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